Wise Not Withered

Wild MEG’s Saloon and Cabaret Lounge

January 20, 2020

Welcome to Week 10 of the Wise Not Withered Character Showcase! I'm honored to present our Wild West Tavern Owner, Meg. She owns and runs a business called "Wild Meg's Saloon and Cabaret Lounge".

MegShowcaseChanges-04.jpgIllustration by Pepi

For a couple years I did Lyft driving on and off. One of my passengers was an elderly gentleman who started telling me about how much he loves Wild West films. I hadn't (and still haven't) watched many (if any?) Western films. I did not grow up with them, and I told the man that I preferred movies and shows with characters that I could relate to. We got into a conversation about how most of the protagonists of those films are white men, and he said something along the lines of "Well that's just how it was." I found myself getting a little irritated at that blatant comment, but I also couldn't say that he was wrong.

When I dropped him off at his destination, he said something along the lines of "Times are changing, though. Women are doing more, and I can't wait to see what you'll be able to do next!" It was a very positive note to end on. And I felt inspired. I started to ask with curiosity rather than resentment, "What would it have been like if a strong woman owned a tavern in the Wild West?"

My initial ideas for this character were solid, but lacking in depth. I knew I wanted a tall, brooding woman, perhaps in-game an item shop owner. I pictured her saying, "Not in my tavern!" and shooting guns out of people's hands. She'd walk over, punch 'em in the face and throw 'em out! I wanted her to be gruff, with a no-nonsense attitude and a spark of humor. Expert-level ability in a wide range of card games. Extremely intelligent, confident, and sometimes abrasive—not afraid to verbally assault someone back into their place.

The illustrator I found for this character is Mariel Astorga, or Pepi, from Argentina! Pepi was one of the first artists that I connected with, and I absolutely adored her enthusiasm and can-do attitude. She has experience in game design, and in programs that encourage and educate young women. I loved the life in the comic illustrations that I found on her Behance page, and I was so excited to be in touch with her.

Pepi is from Mendoza, Argentina. She is an entrepreneurial designer who is passionate about video game development and user experience. She started to work in the gaming industry as a 2D artist in 2014, illustrating some characters and designing interface elements. In Mendoza, she works as an Arts and Design instructor at Probot's Video Game Course, which is a 12-week workshop for students from 10 to 17 years old. Probot School, part of the Tomás Alva Edison Foundation, was featured in 2018 by Microsoft's Flagship School Program. Now, Pepi is working with Game User Experience. Once in a while, she sketches for fun.

In regard to the illustrations Pepi did for Meg: she feels very connected to Michelle's definition of Meg's personality. Pepi tried to make a mix of a Punk style and Australian outback.

Over the past three years, Pepi has been promoting the video game industry and female participation in Mendoza. She had the opportunity to organize multiple workshops and events like "EVA-Mendoza" (Exhibition of Video Games made in Argentina) which is one of the most important Game Development conferences in Latin America, and Global Game Jam.

In 2017, Pepi volunteered as an artist to remotely help on the "Girls Make Games" program. This eventually helped her win a scholarship to attend GDC, or Game Developer's Conference 2018.

In Pepi's words: "Working with two talented and amazing women like Juliana and Michelle, makes me comprehend the importance of what we are doing, not only we were promoting and emphasizing the representation of middle-aged and elderly women in video games, also we were working from our different countries and realities to make changes in real life, in our daily lives. I'm very grateful. Wise Not Withered is a possibility to celebrate the alliance between women, defend our conquered rights, motivate younger generations and start to promote women's new roles all over the world. There are so many stories to tell."

Looking back at our first emails to each other almost feels nostalgic right now! So much has happened with the project over the last year, and seeing how warm and friendly and enthusiastic Pepi was right at the beginning makes me really happy and inspired again. I had been sending dozens of cold emails, hearing back from a handful of people—a tinier handful of that already smaller group accepted the offer and collaborated with at least me, and sometimes as a trio, to create beautiful art of middle-aged and elderly women in stories and illustrations.

I started to develop a tougher skin, in terms of being more readily able to accept rejections and keep moving forward... Where we circle back to Meg! It takes a strong woman who has seen hardship to be able to be so tough and rough—Meg brandishes a gun in the first chapter of the story. She means business! When I first created the character, I didn't realize that it would make sense—and in fact be essential—that she'd also need a more gentle and kind side, to balance out the rough exterior.

When I found the writer for this character, I honestly had been simply searching for a writer specifically from Australia. Not for that character, I just wanted someone from Australia. At this point in my search, I was making games for myself. I have a world map taped on my wall above my computer where I've colored in the countries where artists on the team live. I wanted to have as much diversity as I possibly could, and it was quite frankly very easy to find people from all over the world. With this kind of technology available to us, there's really no excuse not to find new talent and diversify our content!

I started searching Instagram using #australianwriter. I had an interesting interaction with a writer that I may possibly share in a post later with a collection of uncomfortable interactions! The writer who ended up responding and joining the team was Michelle Greening, an author, poet, and lovely soul who lives in West Australia. She will share her thoughts about the story and character later on in the episode.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7XjxxkFcKx/

Michelle was so nice to talk to over Instagram, and at one point I ended up sending her the list of characters, in the format of "Description (Age)". I added that some of them are very comedic and some are very serious. Some of them would probably make a more interesting game than others, but the focus is to just showcase that women can and do still have adventures and stories worth telling into middle-age and beyond.

Immediately Michelle's interest was piqued when she read "Wild West Tavern Owner". She said she is a previous restaurant owner and had a dream to have another restaurant, called "Wild Meg's Saloon and Cabaret Lounge". Since that first interaction we had, Michelle has written a compelling collection of diary entries to set the stage of Meg's character and shed some light on why she is the way she is. She wrote a couple chapters of Meg's daily escapades, one of which I will include at the end of this post!

Honestly for this character as well as last week's... and a lot of them... I just don't have the voice or maturity to read these amazing stories. This is why the next phase includes voice actresses that can really bring the stories to life! I can't do the whole project by myself, and I don't need to!

I couldn't be happier with how Michelle's story about Meg is unfolding, and I absolutely adore Pepi's illustrations, with their sketchy, comic book, papery look. I really think that Meg's entire story could be told through comic illustrations like these!

WildMegsShowcase-03.jpgIllustration by Pepi

Michelle added in so much warmth and depth to Meg's character. She still has the exact kind of no-nonsense attitude and spark of humor that I envisioned, which is now rooted in Michelle's actual experience in owning a restaurant and loving Western movies (she even said to me near the beginning "I should have been born in Texas.").

But not only does Meg have a rough exterior, she is also very caring and protective of the other women in her restaurant. That was an important quality that I wanted a few of the Wise Not Withered characters to have: none of my characters' defining quality would be their maternal nature, but rather that would be simply a part of some of them. Another important aspect of the project is also to show that nobody has just one "defining" quality. Meg is close with and trusts a few women in her saloon, and the interactions that Michelle wrote about them are so real and lovely.

MegShowcaseChanges-01.jpgIllustration by Pepi

Now, here is Michelle, introducing herself and talking about Wild Meg's Saloon and Cabaret Lounge!

"Hi, I'm Michelle.
I live in Perth, Western Australia.
The written word has been a love of mine since I was a little girl.

Most of my writings are random quotes, ramblings and poems about love in all of its guts and glory. I am a huge romantic at heart and believe love never hurts, only people do. Our social conditioning and expectations can hurt us. But love heals.
All in all, my inspiration behind my writing is love and life.

Wild Meg's Saloon and Cabaret Lounge is actually a name I created many moons ago for a restaurant which is still yet to eventuate. I am a little, some might say, overly keen on The Wild West Theme and all things Country and Western. If I found out I was Annie Oakley in a past life I'd be pretty happy.
The name Meg comes from my initials. Michelle Elizabeth Greening. When I saw the list of characters, I jumped at the chance to create a Tavern Owner who takes no nonsense from anyone. Bringing Meg to life is a wonderful way of putting me in to the character. The me who cannot tolerate people who mistreat others. People who believe they have the right to intimidate.
Meg is there to make sure those who do the wrong thing are held accountable. Meg and I are firm believers that if you don't like how someone has spoken to you or treated you, then you have every right to put them in their place. My motto is, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.
Meg's Story has taken on a life of its own and watching it unravel is exciting. As I develop the Diary Entries for her not-so-nice back story, you'll fall in love with her strength and tenacity as she defends the innocent against those bullies.

Empowering young women and girls is a subject very dear to me, so I jumped at the opportunity to join the Wise Not Withered project when I was invited.
Having created a positive self esteem Programme for teenage girls many years ago, I was keen to be part of such a wonderful and unique project such as this. I am very grateful to you, Juliana, for this opportunity."

And now, an excerpt from the story: Chapter 1.

“Quiet!”

Both hands on the bar, Meg takes a calculated breath. The waves of her recently unravelled hair cascade across her shoulders. Slowly and with an edge to her calm exterior, Meg turns to face the now hushed madness before her.
The dancers, who appear to be frozen in time, discretely, one-by-one, step off stage. This is a scene all too familiar to many and they know it’s best to vacate at a time like this.
Staff and patrons are silenced while bracing themselves for the inevitable.
A red glow filters its way through the front windows, adding drama to the already sombre scene, another Western Ranges sunset bringing the day to an end.
“I suggest that you holster your revolvers and step outside.” Meg glares at the men before her.
“Lady, the owner of this establishment might have a different opinion. I suggest you step outside before you get hurt,” the stench from this man turns Meg’s stomach. It is disgustingly all too familiar.
“I know the owner agrees with me Mister. Now holster your pistols gentlemen and remove your stinking selves from these premises.”
A tiny giggle erupts from the silent yet crowded saloon as Meg raises, in one hand, the rifle that nobody noticed by her side.
“Wait. You’re Meg?” the smaller man finds his voice, drops his revolver and makes a hasty exit.
Meg’s gaze is still fixed on the outspoken man. “You need an escort or are you leaving willingly?”
“Meg hey? Is that who you think you are? She’s but a legend, not real I heard.”
Meg aims the rifle between the man’s legs. “Left or right?”
“Left or right what?”

“Left or right knee?” Meg remains calm, “My aim might be a bit off but I am happy for you to find out.”

The people closest to this man quickly disperse. Five women, who had been standing separately throughout the saloon, are now on either side of her. Charlotte, Francis, Suzette, Lila and Claudine are the only people Meg trusts.

“Lady, my knee is already busted.”

She allows herself a hint of a smile. “As I said, holster your pistol, NOW.”

“Alright, I heard you.” With his pistol now back in its holster, he grins, “Can I at least get a drink?”

“Don’t push your luck. While you remain intact and before you say or do anything you will regret, leave my Saloon.”  Meg steps alongside and sees him to the door. “On the outskirts of town you’ll find a place full of your kind. When you get there, tell Joey the girls sent you. He will make certain you are looked after.” Meg watches as he mounts his horse and rides away.

MegShowcaseChanges-05.jpgIllustration by Pepi

Stay tuned for more Wise Not Withered Character Showcases, every Sunday until mid-2020!

Play this podcast on Podbean App